A Guide for the Perplexed Fareed Zakaria
Why Saudi Arabia will want a nuke if Iran gets one — and other mysteries explained.

Fareed Zakaria


Clifford D. May

Fareed Zakaria is wearing his “I’m perplexed” face. On his weekly CNN program, he notes that Saudi Arabia did not go nuclear in response to “Israel’s buildup of a large arsenal of nuclear weapons.” So why, he asks the camera, would the Saudis do so in response to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons?

The camera did not answer, so I will: The Saudis are not fools. They know Israel poses no threat to them. They know, too, that those who rule the Islamic Republic of Iran seek to establish hegemony over the Middle East and lead a global Islamist ascendancy.

A nuclear-armed Iran would challenge the Saudi clan’s claim to be the rightful guardian of Mecca and Medina and embolden Arabia’s Shia minority. It would threaten the small states in the region, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Bahrain among them. It would dominate Iraq (where its influence has been growing as American forces have withdrawn) and Afghanistan (from which American forces soon will withdraw).

So if the Iranians get nukes, the Saudis can be expected to acquire them not long after (with Pakistan likely providing express delivery). Turkey probably will not trail far behind. Other states may follow suit. In such a situation, the chance of a nuclear device finding its way into terrorist hands would increase substantially — as President Obama and others have pointed out.

“But,” Zakaria asks in his most recent Time magazine column, “would a country that has labored for decades to pursue a nuclear program and suffered huge sanctions and costs to do so then turn around and give the fruits of its efforts to a gang of militants?” The obvious answer is yes — if those militants were planning to kill people Iran’s rulers want killed. That’s kind of what it means to be a sponsor of terrorism, and Iran has been the world leader in this field for a long time. To take just two instances: Iran was implicated in Hezbollah’s bombing of the U.S. Marines barracks in 1983 and al-Qaeda’s bombing of American embassies in Africa in 1998.

Zakaria asserts that “the evidence is ambiguous” as to whether Iran’s rulers “have decided” to develop nuclear weapons — despite the fact that Yukiya Amano, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, said last week that “Iran has engaged in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices.” (Also despite the fact that there are few good reasons to bury non-nuclear facilities inside mountains and prevent IAEA inspectors from having a look at them.)

In the same column, Zakaria asserts that Iran is being told to “surrender.” Now he’s got me perplexed: Why is asking Iran’s rulers not to develop a weapon they have not decided to develop a demand for “surrender”?

Zakaria’s commentaries omit any mention of the stated intentions of Iran’s theocrats. Is that because quoting them would make it apparent that this crisis has been caused by them — not by what Zakaria calls a sudden attack of “war fever” whipped up by those addressing the AIPAC conference earlier this month?